Khalid Mashal, a leader-in-exile of the Palestinian Hamas party, stated Monday in an interview that Israel must withdraw its troops from Palestinian territories as a prerequisite for peace talks.
"If Israel recognises our rights and pledges to withdraw from all occupied lands, Hamas, and the Palestinian people together with it, will decide to halt armed resistance."

Hamas has faced the challenge of forming a new Palestinian government since winning a majority of seats in Palestinian legislative elections on January 25th.  As a resistance movement, Party leaders have assured supporters that their ongoing focus will be on resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, an occupation ruled illegal by international law.

Meanwhile, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reiterated his government’s position: "We will not conduct any negotiations with Hamas or with anyone who is part of it or dependent on it."  However, he left open the possibility of ongoing negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, "without closing off diplomatic avenues, if those exist, to continue progressing".

Hamas leader Mashal challenged the Israeli requirement that Hamas agree to the tenets of the so-called ‘roadmap to peace’, saying that Israel itself was not adhering to it.  He said Monday, "Since no one is abiding by the dispositions of the road map, the Palestinians also feel it is not expedient to adhere to it," he said.

Hamas leaders still plan to meet with Russian president Vladimir Putin, after an invitation was extended to the new Palestinian ruling party last week.  French leaders have supported the meeting, and South Africa’s and Venezuela’s Presidents, Thabo Mbeki and Hugo Chavez, respectively, have asked for meetings with Hamas as well.  "Russia is the first of the countries in the Middle East Quartet [Russia, the EU, US and UN] that respected the choice made by the Palestinian people and made it clear once again that it does not consider Hamas an extremist and terrorist movement," said Mashal in his Monday statement.